light into ashes
Jul 24, 2009 7:38pm
Weir may have been a bit hard on Constanten - but it's true Tom was no rock & roller!
He was one of Phil's avant-garde music friends, and the band liked his work with them on Anthem (they actually wanted him to join the band right away) - so when he became available to play with them in late November '68, they grabbed him immediately. (His first show was 11/23/68, the day after he got out of the air force.)
His forte was more weird, baroque-style, classical-influenced instrumentation - which was perfect for Anthem & Aoxomoxoa.
But by the end of '69 they were pretty much done with Aoxomoxoa songs & they were doing simpler songs where he couldn't really add much. In Dec '69 they were also putting more rock & roll songs in the set like Not Fade Away & Dancing in the Streets. Since they'd already tended to play at volumes that drowned him out (if he couldn't hear himself, they probably weren't listening to him either!) - this didn't help his cause. (Also, he became a scientologist & stopped taking LSD, so there wasn't a meeting of minds there!) So in Jan '70 they had an amicable parting.
Garcia & Lesh later played on his solo album Tarot, some outtakes are here - http://www.archive.org/details/gd73-11-28.sbd-seastones.finney.968.sbefail.shnf
It's worth mentioning that few of the Dead's keyboardists managed to stick with them through a change in style. Pigpen was just fine in '66, but couldn't keep up by '68. Constanten was just right for the Live/Dead period but the band moved out of that phase pretty quickly. Keith transformed the jams in '71, but he was doing nothing for them by '77/78.
As far as the Dark Star riff, you can easily compare Pigpen & Constanten:
Here is one of the last Pigpen Dark Stars - that simple riff, all the way through! http://www.archive.org/details/gd68-11-01.sbd.cotsman.18100.sbeok.shnf
And here is one of Constanten's first Dark Stars - you can notice a couple things right away - first, he's way quieter than Pigpen was! (in many of these shows he's barely audible) - and also, he's playing the same riff through much of it (so the band must've wanted it there), but he does putter around a bit in the middle jam.http://www.archive.org/details/gd1968-12-07.sbd.miller.88674.sbeok.flac16
Then, one from a month later, a typical Jan '69 Star - he still starts with the infamous riff, but he soon starts stretching out & blending in. Still hard to hear, though, except when the others quiet down!http://www.archive.org/details/gd69-01-17.sbd.miller.89798.sbeok.flac16
Anyway, for months after that (well into the summer), the riff would show up at the start of Dark Star, but just as a brief stepping-stone into the jam. Now it's hard to tell, but I think Pigpen had his own keyboard, and he would just play that bit for a few bars and then stop while Constanten took over, so it's possible Constanten never actually played it? That's often what it sounds like.
For one show where you can clearly hear Constanten on his own channel, this is a good one: http://www.archive.org/details/gd1969-08-23.sbd.2196.sbeok.shnf
He's also loud & clear, ironically, at the Woodstock show - http://www.archive.org/details/gd69-08-16.sbd.cotsman.15205.sbeok.shnf
And here's one of his last Dead shows: http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-01-23.sbd.fixed.connor.18153.sbeok.shnf
Actually I like the sound when he's kind of submerged in the mix, as a ghostly presence....
Here's an interview with Constanten, where he talks about the Live/Dead shows:
"The weekend at the Carousel Ballroom was one of those few times that I had a relatively decent stage setup. That is, I could hear the organ in the monitors, and its sound didn’t make my skin crawl. As on other such occasions, however, it was such a surprise to me when it happened that it took some time to adjust to. And I never got that time, anyway.... Despite continued efforts, I’d been unable to get a keyboard to practice on at home. Hence, I was learning chord changes on the fly, if at all. And the opportunity to practice wasn’t even a dream." http://www.pooterland.com/index2/looking_glass/tom_constanten/tom_constanten.html
And here's another one where he talks about his musical background & stage sound with the Dead:
"There were two organs, the Vox Super-Continental, and the Hammond B-3. Neither suited my purposes at all well, although the Hammond was a step up. For one thing, their sounds ranged from barely acceptable to cringeworthy. For another, I couldn't find a place for the sustained sound of an organ in a guitar band context - ahhh, for a piano! Furthermore, the action of an organ keyboard, electronic or not, was sufficiently different from that of a piano, which was all I'd known until then, to be an obstacle to my getting a feel for the music. Basically, I wasn't an organist."http://www.digitalinterviews.com/digitalinterviews/views/constanten.shtml